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Smoky Mountains Hiking Vacation

Mount Sterling Appalachian Loop


  •   Guides Choice backpacking trip
  •   Sweeping views from Mount Sterling
  •   Some hiking on the Appalachian Trail
  •   Scenic, majestic backcountry camps
  •   2 of the Park's most beautiful waterfalls
  •   Wildlife viewing opportunities
  •   A dip in an amazing swimming hole


This is a truly fantastic trip, arguably our best overall and selected as the Guides Choice Trip in the Smokies. It ascends two peaks (Mount Cammerer on the Appalachian Trail and Mount Sterling with some of the best views in the whole park), it features old growth forests, a fire lookout constructed out of rock, plenty of historic sites, the highest backcountry campsite in the Park, waterfalls, a swimming hole and beautiful creekside hiking. The historical route we follow was used by Native Americans, settlers, loggers, and livestock herders before the national park was formed. We retrace their footsteps on this amazingly beautiful and diverse Appalachian adventure!

This trip is a loop hike, so there's little backtracking and each day features new and exciting scenery. We start low in the valleys and follow a series of mountain creeks high into the mountains, where we are rewarded with amazing hiking and out-of-this-world views! We'll thoroughly explore the ecology of the Smokies, which is phenomenally diverse, from the temperate rainforests to the high peaks. This trip's exhilarating hiking and majestic camping leave most guests with an awesome sense of accomplishment and rejuvenation.

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Trip Dates & Booking

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800-715-HIKE (4453)

Trip Itinerary

Day 1
  • Shuttle to the trailhead: 1-hour drive from Asheville
  • Hiking Mileage: 5.3 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1250 feet

On this multi-day Great Smoky Mountains backpacking trip we begin hiking along a series of mountain creeks and cascades before arriving at an amazing swimming hole and stunning waterfall. This spot is by itself worthy of every bit of effort we're going to put into this trip! After enjoying the swimming hole and falls, we pass a historic logging site from the late 19th and early 20th centuries and continue down the valley. Tonight's camp is along the creek we've been following, nestled deep in the wilderness of the Appalachians. We'll enjoy a big dinner and sound sleep with the rushing water of the creek as our background 'music'.

Day 2
  • Hiking Mileage: 10.4 miles
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: 1970 feet

Today is a layover day to explore some of the best views the Appalachian Trail has to offer! We’ll depart camp carrying only daypacks and hike uphill toward the high ridge of the Appalachian Trail. The historic trail we follow takes us by ancient agricultural sites and the historic Dan Gunter homesite. Your guide will share amazing stories about these early pioneers as you hike by the sites. We'll eventually reach the Appalachian Trail and turn North on this legendary trail; our destination is the Mount Cammerer Fire Tower with arguably the most outstanding views in the Park. This tower, the only rock one of it's kind in the Park, was built by the CCC in the 1930's. It is a masterpiece and on a clear day allows views for a hundred miles in every direction. We’ll eat lunch at the lookout and drink in the views before hiking back to camp for a big, much-deserved Appalachian dinner.

Day 3
  • Hiking Mileage: 5.8 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 2820 feet

We’ll ease into day 3 with some lovely creekside hiking. Eventually we'll leave the creek and climb up to a high gap and junction with another trail that will take us high into the mountains. Historic homesteads and evidence of early pioneers dot our path and will fill our conversation. We’ll hike through beautiful spruce/fir forests leading to the Mount Sterling summit and fire lookout. From this towering vantage point we'll enjoy sweeping views of the Smokies Crest and especially Mount Guyot, the park’s 2nd highest peak. Tonight's camp is the highest in the park at 5,820 feet at the summit of Mount Sterling. We'll settle in for a hearty dinner and peaceful night of much-needed sleep.

Day 4
  • Hiking Mileage: 6.1 miles
  • Elevation Loss: 4070 feet
  • Shuttle to Asheville: 1-hour drive

The last day of our Smoky Mountains adventure begins with another fantastic breakfast prepared by your guide. Afterward, we’ll start down the Baxter Creek Trail through virgin forests with large trees, rock outcroppings, and wildflowers and eventually reach another majestic mountain creek. This being our last day, we'll take our time to absorb the unique biodiversity of the Smokies’ amazing creeks. Our hike concludes at the Big Creek Ranger Station, after which a short drive will bring us back to our starting point in Asheville, NC and the end of our outstanding Appalachian hiking experience!

Please Note: We always do everything in our power to follow the set itinerary, however it can change occasionally based on temporary access restrictions, weather, lodging/campground availability, guest ability/injury, natural events like fires and flooding, and other potential causes.

Trip Details

What's Included

  • Top-of-the-line tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, and technical backpack
  • Use of trekking poles
  • All meals are included from breakfast the first day through lunch on the last day
  • A professional, knowledgeable, certified Great Smoky Mountains hiking guide
  • Roundtrip transportation from your hotel in Asheville, North Carolina to the trailhead and back
  • Entrance fees and national park permits
  • Emergency equipment including a company-issued first-aid kit and satellite phone
  • You will receive a Lifetime Hiking Membership entitling you, your spouse and kids to a lifetime discount of 10% off any Wildland Trekking hiking trip after your first one!

What's Not Included

  • Clothes, raingear, and footwear (Oboz hiking shoes and boots recommended)
  • Sunscreen, toiletries and personal items
  • Water bottles and a headlamp or flashlight
  • Guide gratuity (industry recommendation is 10-20% of trip cost)
See the Packing Lists page for more information.

Meals: What To Expect

All of our hiking and backpacking tours include a diversity of tasty meals packed full of critical carbohydrates, proteins and fats. We carry foods that travel well in the backcountry – rice, pastas, lentils, beans, couscous, packaged meats, nuts, breads, oatmeal, granola, and more.

For optimal taste and energy, we supplement all our meals with spices, herbs, oils, cheeses, butter, sugar, and fruits and vegetables (fresh and dried). In addition, we provide you with with an assortment of trail mix, snacks, and dried fruits to eat at your own discretion.

We regularly accommodate vegan, vegetarian, kosher and non-gluten diets and will make adjustments for food allergies. These and other special dietary requests may require an additional fee.

Gear We Provide

We provide all group gear which includes the following:
  • Deuter or Osprey backpacks
  • Sierra Designs, Kelty or Big Agnes tents
  • Sierra Designs, Kelty, Big Agnes and Mountain Hardware sleeping bags
  • Thermarest or Big Agnes sleeping pads
  • Leki or Black Diamond trekking poles
  • Cooking stoves and cookware
  • Company-issued first-aid kit
  • Emergency communication device(s)

What Gear To Bring

We ask that you supply a couple of gear items on your hiking tour. These items are two 1-liter water bottles per person and either a headlamp or flashlight per person. Basic items like sunscreen, bug repellent, lip balm, and toiletries are also important. All of these items are available online at Wildland Trekking Outfitters.

What Clothes to Bring

Please refer to the trip packet for a recommended clothing list (we email you a detailed trip packet when you inquire and when you register). All trips require a sturdy pair of hiking shoes or hiking boots, rain gear, and non-cotton clothing layers. A minimum of three pairs of wool or synthetic hiking socks are also required. All of these items are available online at Wildland Trekking Outfitters.

NOTE: See the Packing Lists page for more detailed information on what clothes and gear to bring on your hiking tour. The trip packet you receive when you contact us will have the most accurate clothing and gear list for the tour you're interested in.

Trip Logistics

How do I Register?

Ready to hike? In the Dates section of this trip page, the green dates are bookable online by simply clicking on the date, and blue dates must be booked through our customer service team for a variety of possible reasons. To email our customer service team, you can click here to get the ball rolling. Our adventure consultants will confirm availability, and if you're ready to register we'll email you a link to a registration profile. You'll have 72 hours to complete your profile (and that of any dependents) and pay the deposit ($100).

Feel free to call us for more info - we're here 7 days a week!

Where Do We Meet?

You will meet your guide and group at the Holiday Inn in downtown Asheville (standard rooms are $99-$140 for our guests, 828-225-5550) for an orientation meeting at 5:00 PM the evening before the trip begins. We're happy to give you a ride to this meeting if you're not staying at the Holiday Inn. Your guide will then pick you up the next morning for transport to the trailhead. For Private Great Smoky Mountains Tours your guide can meet you at any hotel in Asheville at an agreed upon time.

Check out our Travel Resources page for information on flights, shuttles, lodging and more.

Start/End Times

Your guide will inform you of the first day's pick-up time at the orientation meeting. Generally, you can expect it to be between 5 and 8 am, although the exact time will depend on current weather and road conditions. We will drop you off at your hotel on the final day normally before 5 PM (this time is not guaranteed, as a variety of circumstances can influence our exact return time).

Safety Considerations

Your safety is our top priority. Our hiking tours are led by professional hiking guides, all of whom are wilderness-certified first responders or EMT's, each with years of guiding and wilderness experience. We've developed comprehensive risk management protocols that our guides adhere to in case of an emergency, and most tours carry a satellite phone. If you have any further questions about safety, please contact us at 1-800-715-HIKE (4453) for more information.


Your tour will be led by a trained, experienced professional with a solid guiding background, years of personal wilderness and hiking experience, medical certifications, and a passion for leading people into breathtaking landscapes. Check out our Meet Our Team page for staff bios.

Guide Working Parameters

Guides are required to take 8 hours off each 24-hour period to sleep, recuperate, take personal/down time...etc. In addition, as part of the 8 hours off they must sleep/rest or be in their tents/rooms uninterrupted for a minimum of 5 hours each night. We ask guests to respect these requirements and to not interrupt guides' off time and sleep time unless there is a true emergency.

Group Size and Age Restrictions

The standard group size on Smoky Mountains backpacking trips is 6 guests and 1 guide, with a maximum group size of 6 guests and 1 or 2 guides If you have more questions about group size, please give us a call at 1-800-715-HIKE (4453) and we'll answer all your questions.

Age restrictions are as follows:
  • 12 and older to join scheduled tours (mixed groups)
  • 10 and older to join private tours, with final approval on a case by case basis
  • specific logistical requirements (such as porter or stock assist) determined on a case by case basis

Weather in the Great Smoky Mountains

The weather in the Great Smoky Mountains varies greatly by time of year. To be fully prepared, please follow the recommended clothing list closely (this list comes as part of your trip packet when you register). Read below for average high and low temperatures in for low elevations in the Great Smoky Mountains:

Average Temperatures (Fahrenheit)
Low Elev
High Elev

Camping on Backpacking Trips

backpacking tent

Backcountry Sleeping

Tent Camping

Sleeping on backpacking trips is in premier 1-person, 2-person or 4-person backcountry tents. Solo travelers, and anyone else who requests it, are issued single tents. Top-of-the-line self-inflating sleeping pads and sleeping bags (professionally laundered after every trip) are also provided.

backpacking meals

Backcountry Cuisine

Fresh & Delicious

Meals from breakfast Day 1 through lunch the last day are fully included and prepared by your guide. We never use dehydrated backpacking meals, instead serving freshly prepared, delicious backcountry cuisine made with a variety of common and specialty ingredients that travel well in the wilderness.

backpacking campsites

Amazing Campsites

In the Action

Of course campsites vary tremendously by destination, trip and even by the individual day of a trip. However, you can expect to camp in beautiful areas that put you right in the action to make the most of your backpacking adventure. We carefully design our itineraries with campsites in mind.

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